Envy by Joseph Epstein
The Seven Deadly Sins (New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities)

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Synopsis

Malice that cannot speak its name, cold-blooded but secret hostility, impotent desire, hidden rancor and spite--all cluster at the center of envy. Envy clouds thought, writes Joseph Epstein, clobbers generosity, precludes any hope of serenity, and ends in shriveling the heart. Of the seven deadly sins, he concludes, only envy is no fun at all.
Writing in a conversational, erudite, self-deprecating style that wears its learning lightly, Epstein takes us on a stimulating tour of the many faces of envy. He considers what great thinkers--such as John Rawls, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche--have written about envy; distinguishes between envy, yearning, jealousy, resentment, and schadenfreude ("a hardy perennial in the weedy garden of sour emotions"); and catalogs the many things that are enviable, including wealth, beauty, power, talent, knowledge and wisdom, extraordinary good luck, and youth (or as the title of Epstein's chapter on youth has it, "The Young, God Damn Them"). He looks at resentment in academia, where envy is mixed with snobbery, stirred by impotence, and played out against a background of cosmic injustice; and he offers a brilliant reading of Othello as a play more driven by Iago's envy than Othello's jealousy. He reveals that envy has a strong touch of malice behind it--the envious want to destroy the happiness of others. He suggests that envy of the astonishing success of Jews in Germany and Austria may have lurked behind the virulent anti-Semitism of the Nazis.
As he proved in his best-selling Snobbery, Joseph Epstein has an unmatched ability to highlight our failings in a way that is thoughtful, provocative, and entertaining. If envy is no fun, Epstein's Envy is truly a joy to read.
 

About Joseph Epstein

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Joseph Epstein is the author of eighteen books, including Snobbery: The American Version, which was a New York Times Best Seller and Notable Book for 2002. His most recent books are Friendship, An Expose and Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy is Genius. He has also written roughly four hundred essays, stories, reviews, and articles in such publications as The New Yorker, Harper's, TLS, New Republic, Commentary, New York Review of Books, New York Times Magazine, and others. He was the editor of The American Scholar for over twenty years and has taught at Northwestern University.
 
Published July 31, 2003 by Oxford University Press, USA. 144 pages
Genres: Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Humor & Entertainment, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

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The Guardian

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Greed by Phyllis Tickle 112pp, Oxford, £9.99 Lust by Simon Blackburn 166pp, Oxford, £9.99 Envy by Joseph Epstein 136pp, Oxford, £9.99 Gluttony by Francine Prose 128pp, Oxford, £9.99 The doom-mongers who claim we are living in an age of declining moral standards may be wrong, but it is no...

May 15 2004 | Read Full Review of Envy: The Seven Deadly Sins (...

Publishers Weekly

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The Oxford University Press/New York Public Library Seven Deadly Sins series, of which Envy is the first volume, comes hot on the heels of Penguin's successful Lives, which provocatively pairs celebrated subjects with well-known writers in compact and accessible biographies.

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Spirituality & Practice

While it cannot be proved whether or not envy is part of human nature, what can be proven, I believe, is that, unleashed, envy tends to diminish all in whom it takes possession.

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